Evviva Weintraub Lajoie, Vice Provost for University Libraries hosts our virtual book club exclusively for Loyal Blues.
You’ll have the opportunity to connect with alumni and friends from around the country, all while having an expert educator guide you through several books annually.
I am delighted to share one of my favorite stories with you. Set in a landscape peopled by magicians and fantastic talking animals, Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories tells the story of twelve-year-old Haroun as he sets out on an adventure to restore his father’s gift of storytelling by reviving the poisoned Sea of Stories. On the way, he encounters many foes, all intent on draining the sea of all its storytelling powers. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I do.
There is no cost to participate. Simply purchase a copy of the book and sign up below to receive emails. This title is available as an audiobook, though a variety of vendors as an eBook, and also through the Public Library through Overdrive. If you have trouble finding a copy, just let us know.
Once you've signed up, you will receive periodic emails to guide you through the reading period, which will run from October 13 until November 10. You can also join our Facebook Forum to discuss the book and post questions. We'll conclude with an interactive online discussion with Evviva.
1. Why does Haroun think of his father as a juggler? What do you think of juggling as a metaphor for storytelling? Do you think Rushdie sees himself as a juggler of words – what evidence of this do you see in the first chapter?
2. Rushdie’s novels contain some criticism, parody and love of his home country of India’s politics, religious, culture and lifestyle. As you are reading, consider what commentary he is making about life in India.
3. Why do you think Rushdie replaced Indian names with letters? What do you think it means when the name of a place has been forgotten?
1. In the end of the previous chapter, we saw edges of reality and fantasy begin to blur. Now, everything that Haroun had previously thought to be made-up, seems to be true. Think about the original question asked by Mr. Sengupta in the first chapter, "what's the use of stories that aren't even true?" What do you think of it now in the current context?
2. Rushdie incorporates elements from several cultural and literary sources to tell this tale, including The Arabian Knights, Through the Looking Glass and even the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour album. To what effect does he use these references? Consider how the novel plays with language.
3. While Khattam-Shud is the antagonist of the novel, it is also a larger concept - that of complete silence. The theme of silence is explored from many diffferent angles throughout the novel. How does Rushdie use this as a symbol for this difficult period of his life?
1. Think about how Gup and Chup (and their inhabitants) are characterized in the novel. How are they characterized? Is one clearly good or evil?
2. What does Mudra the Shadow Warrior represent? What is Rushdie saying through Mudra's and the other Chupwala's silence?
3. On the Dark Ship, Haroun notes a few times that Chupwalas who were most devoted to the Cultmaster, and even the Cultmaster himself, were normal "weaselly, clearical types". Why do you think Rushdie choose to portray them in this way?
In 1989, following the publication of The Satanic Verses, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering the death of Salman Rushdie. He immediately went into hiding in the UK, away from his home and family. Haroun and the Sea of Stories was published a year later. The novel began as a series of stories told by Rushdie to his son, Zafar, to explain what was happening.
Understanding this period of Rushie’s life is very important to understanding Haroun and the Sea of Stories as an allegory. Dr. Walter Hakala has prepared some additional resources so you can familiarize yourself with this period in Rushdie’s history:
Salman Rushdie, “The Disappeared: How the fatwa changed a writer’s life,” The New Yorker, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/09/17/the-disappeared
Listen to “Becoming ‘Anton,’ Or, How Rushdie Survived A Fatwa,” Morning Edition, http://www.npr.org/2012/09/18/161172489/becoming-anton-or-how-rushdie-survived-a-fatwa
The Salman Rushdie Affair, BBC Documentary
Dr. Walter Hakala is an Associate Professor in the Department of English and Asian Studies Program here at UB. He is the author of Negotiating Languages: Urdu, Hindi, and the Definition of South Asia and has published articles on coffee in 18th-century Delhi, language in Afghanistan, and South Asian lexicography. His current project is a survey of Urdu epigraphy. He regularly teaches courses on "Romance Traditions in Asia," "The Idea of India," "Islam and Literature," "India in the Traveler's Eye," "Walking Dictionaries," and "Translation: Theory and Practice."
For this week, we’re looking at some of the literary and cultural references and allusions from Haroun and the Sea of Stories.
To prepare for next week’s lecture, Dr. Hakala recommends The Arabian Nights: A Companion for an outstanding and entertaining overview of storytelling traditions associated with The Arabian Nights. Particularly the first three chapters: “Beautiful Infidels, “A Book without Authors” and “Oceans of Stories” which you can find here: https://www.amazon.com/Arabian-Nights-Companion-Tauris-Paperbacks/dp/1860649831
As we pointed out last week, Haroun acts as an allegory for Rushdie’s experience after the publication of the The Satanic Verses. But it is also a celebration of language and storytelling. He borrows from both Eastern and Western culture and literature, and mixes them freely. I recommend this essay by Dr. Thomas Kullman (warning for spoilers!):
As well as this article on the story’s connection to Islamic tradition:
Please join us next Tuesday, October 27 at noon est for Dr. Hakala’s virtual lecture
The Arabian Nights: Frames and Translations
Who is the author of the Arabian Nights? With an Indic frame structure, its main characters possessing Persian names, and detailed descriptions of pre-modern Arab urban culture, how then is it possible that most English editions of the work are derived from a text that originally appeared in French? And why would Europeans praise as an essential work of world literature a story that was widely denigrated by Arabic literary critics? We will discuss the conflicting origins of this text, its various translations, and the remarkable range of narrative devices employed by its heroine, Shahrazad.
This week we will be looking at Kashmir. Rushdie himself was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1947, but his parents were both Kashmiri Muslims. The region of the Kashmir is unique, and historically known for its agglomeration of cultures.
Dr. Hakala recommends looking at some of the current news from Kashmir: https://www.nytimes.com/topic/destination/kashmir
He’s also provided this chapter from Sources of Indian Tradition, which offers some history on the region [add PDF]
I’ve also found this documentary on Kashmir that can provide some context on the region: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SuNPI6Y6K8
Have a book that you think might be interesting for the book club to read? Drop us a note and we'll add it to our list of recommendations.